Nestled in the story of Zacharias and Elizabeth and the birth of John the Baptist is this little morsel of wonderful.
"This is the way the Lord has dealt with me in the days when He looked with favor upon me, to take away my disgrace among men." - Luke 1:25 NASB
When Jesus came and gave His inaugural address signaling the start of His ministry, He quoted from what we call Isaiah 61,
"THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME,BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR.HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES,AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND,TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD." - Luke 4:18-19 NASB
As we move into this Advent Season, let’s be open to the favor of the Lord resting upon us.
Today, He is still in the business of taking away disgrace as He did for Elizabeth so long ago.
The captivity is over. The Lord has come to set all things aright.
Thanks for stopping by.
Walk in the light during this season of lights.
PS - You can read a retelling of this and forty other stories from the life of Jesus in Encounters With Jesus would make a great Christmas gift. Forty short stories that draw you into the life of Jesus. Available in Paperback, Kindle or Nook version. If you are buying more than 5, email me for quantity discounts - Ben@AnotherRedLetterDay.com
Jesus commissioned the boys to go and preach the kingdom of heaven.
And as you go, preach, saying, “The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. Freely you received, freely give. - Matthew 10:7-8 NASB
There are more instructions that follow. But on this day, the message they were to carry is simple.
The kingdom of heaven is at hand.
Simple message—powerful demonstration.
Heal the sick.
Raise the dead.
Cleanse the lepers.
Cast out demons.
The first two times we hear this message—The kingdom of heaven is at hand—we get the message of repentance. This time, repentance is not mentioned, but mighty works accompany these words.
Remember when Jesus told us of His mission?
THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD IS UPON ME, BECAUSE HE ANOINTED ME TO PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE POOR. HE HAS SENT ME TO PROCLAIM RELEASE TO THE CAPTIVES, AND RECOVERY OF SIGHT TO THE BLIND, TO SET FREE THOSE WHO ARE OPPRESSED, TO PROCLAIM THE FAVORABLE YEAR OF THE LORD. - Luke 4:18-19 NASB
Let’s break it down.
Preach the gospel to the poor.
Proclaim release to the captives.
Proclaim recovery of sight to the blind.
Set free all who are oppressed.
Proclaim the favorable year of the Lord.
This kingdom of heaven comes with a proclamation of freedom—the end of captivity.
When John the Baptist sent his disciples to Jesus to verify that Jesus was ‘the one,’ what proof did Jesus send back?
Jesus answered and said to them, "Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM. "And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me." - Matthew 11:4-6 NASB
What evidence did Jesus offer that the kingdom of heaven was at hand?
The blind see.
The lame walk.
Lepers are cleansed.
The deaf hear.
The dead are raised.
The poor have the gospel preached to them.
The kingdom of darkness is a kingdom of captivity. Many cling to their dark chains because they are forged in fear and selfishness and the locks are made of guilt and shame.
I can’t leave satan’s realm there’s too much to lose—too much to give up.
Sometimes we preach a gospel of religion and ask people to trade one captivity for another. Give up your life of guilt and shame, and take on a new life of self-righteousness. Oh, and by the way, the guilt and shame—bring that along too.
We see Jesus preaching freedom to the captives. Freedom from all their captors, whether they are bound in spiritual darkness, or physical blindness. Jesus comes breaking every chain and sends His followers to do the same.
Is it the same today? Does Jesus still break every chain? Or has the gospel changed? Has it lost some of its power? Does Jesus still send us out the way He sent the disciples, to preach, heal, and deliver?
Lord, today I hear your call to walk with your message of freedom. Allow me to walk into villages of captivity today, and give me the boldness to preach your beautiful gospel. I ask you to confirm the word with signs as you did for your disciples. Do here and now what You did there and then.
Jesus often spoke in parables, and I want to pick around the edge of one this morning.
The day Jesus called Matthew (a.k.a. Levi the tax collector,) to follow Him, they headed back to Matthew’s home where Matthew hosted a “big reception for Him” (Luke 5:29) This was not some intimate gathering, but rather it was crowded with tax collectors and sinners, and apparently paparazzi, because both the Pharisee’s and the disciples of John the Baptist heard about it.
This big shindig is the setting for today’s Red Letters.
And no one puts new wine into old wineskins; otherwise the new wine will burst the skins and it will be spilled out, and the skins will be ruined. But new wine must be put into fresh wineskins. And no one, after drinking old wine wishes for new; for he says, 'The old is good enough.' - Luke 5:37-39
As you probably already understand, in that day, they would put their unfermented wine into fresh leather bags, where the wine would age, and give off it’s gasses, and the skin would stretch to accommodate this expansion. As the wine aged, it became less volatile and the wine skins became less flexible.
This wine skin still worked as a perfectly acceptable vessel for other old wines that were past the fermentation stage, but could never again be use for new wine.
Ok, so we get it in the natural, but what was Jesus getting at with this teaching?
The message of the parable is pretty clear and easy to derive. The new wine He speaks of is the gospel of the kingdom, the good news that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. The old wine skins are the religious folks of the day, who are starting to crack and leak and burst at the seams as they try to take in this new wine.
At this point in the reception He is responding to two groups of critics. I think when we approach this parable it is easy for us to point at the Pharisees as the Old School Religious folks He was rebuking, but there is a second group sitting in judgment of His carousing, the disciples of John the Baptist.
John the Baptist was, in Jesus own words, the greatest prophet born of woman. Jesus gave great honor to John. John was the man who fulfilled all those prophesies, like “I send my messenger before Him to make His path straight.” He was the prophet in the spirit of Elijah who every Jewish child knew of because there was always an empty chair at the Passover feast set just for him. John the Baptist was a big deal.
But John’s day was over, and John himself pointed his followers to Jesus.
Again the next day John was standing with two of his disciples, and he looked at Jesus as He walked, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God!" The two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus. - John 1:35-37
But apparently there were some who had been baptized by John, who gathered together to encourage one another in their resolve to live the fasted and repentant life style John lived in the wilderness. It seems there were pockets of these disciples all over the region, because people came from far and wide to be baptized by John in the Jordan. Decades later Paul ran into some of these folks in Ephesus in Acts 19.
I believe that Jesus spoke this parable not to the Pharisees, but to these disciples of John. The parable for the Pharisees was that of the physician, but to these who were zealous for good works, the Lord has a different message.
These men were asking why Jesus’ disciples did not fast, why they were not living in the austere pattern of repentance that John’s had taught them.
I am sure God had blessed them as they walked in repentance. God showed up for them when they fasted. They were attaining some satisfaction in their walk with the Lord as they lived the life John demonstrated for them.
Then they took one look at Jesus hanging out with crowds and joining them in their parties.
The very people who did not repent and follow John were now hosting Jesus, and He was spending time with them. These are the folk that the disciples of John had set themselves against, the drunkards and gluttons.
Don’t they know that the way to God is through sacrifice?
Doesn’t everything we know about God point to His pleasure in our sacrifice?
How can This Man be the Messiah?
How can this be a move of God?
Isn’t our way of touching God sufficient?
This old wine is good enough!
And so it has been for the two thousand years since Jesus’ ascension, and so it is today.
God has chosen to reveal Himself to the Church progressively. Every few generations there is a move of God.
The life of the Church is like that river described in Ezekiel 47 that flows from the throne of God. The river is teaming with life, there are trees beside this river that bring healing to the nations, but the banks of the river are dead.
What happens in every generation, or at least in every new move of God is that those in the move, upon the death of its leader, build a Church on the banks of the river.
There was Luther with a break through revelation of the grace of God, and his followers built a church on the banks of the river, and rejected anything that came later. After all, the wine in their wine skin was good enough. What’s wrong with that “old time religion” that was good enough for my grandparents?
The same thing happened with Wesley, and Calvin, and Finney, and Roberts.
Jesus wants to fill your wine skin with new wine, but as you grow stiff and inflexible, you exclude yourself from the ability to grow with what God is doing today, and you will find yourself on the banks of the river. You will be the ones criticizing ‘those upstarts.’
Lord, will you make me a new wine skin today, so I can be a carrier of new wine to my generation. [Tweet This]
Thanks for coming by today.
Shine where you're screwed in!
This is a repost from last November, but it spoke to me this morning, so I share it once again with you.
Jumping out of the boat,
Peter walked on the water to Jesus.
Master, if it’s You
I’ve never seen anything impact Him like the news we got this morning. John was dead, John the Baptist. And not just dead—murdered, decapitated by that tyrant, Herod. He was visibly shaken when He heard the news.
All He wanted to do was get away—away from the crowds, away from the city, away from us. Away. He needed to take in this sadness, to process this loss. He no doubt wanted to talk to His Father about it. That’s where He, Jesus, turned when . . . well, just about any time. When stress was bearing down, when decisions had to be made, even when He was full of joy, He went to the Father.
We’d all been out in the towns and villages. He had sent us two by two, and, well, we had some stories to tell. Andrew and I were amazed, and as the others began to arrive, the stories kept growing. Matthew and Thomas were telling a story about casting a demon out in Capernaum. James was relating how he and Bart laid hands on a woman’s eyes, and she saw for the first time in her life. We were all laughing and rejoicing as we shared our own accounts.
Then Philip came in with the news about John, and the tone of the gathering changed abruptly. Jesus got quiet. Everyone got quiet.
“Let’s get out of here,” He said.
He headed down to the boat, and we all followed. He asked me to navigate to a secluded place, away from the cities and towns and multitudes. We’d been there often to be alone with the Master. There we had laughed and learned for hours on end without interruption. But it was not going to be like that today. The word was out, and huge numbers of men, women, and children were there to meet us as we disembarked.
I don’t know if the crowds grew because we were all doing His works now, spreading His name—His fame—in the region, or if those who opposed us were just sending the mobs in order to get under His skin. Either way, as always, He took immediate control of the situation.
He settled in, the rock embankment at His back creating a natural amphitheater, and began to teach. As He did so, the assembly continued to grow. It was late afternoon, and we had not even had lunch. As the sun began its descent, I pressed my way over to Jesus and suggested He should wrap it up.
“We’re out in the country and it’s getting late. Dismiss the people so they can go to the villages and get some supper.”
He turned to look at me. The twinkle in His eye asked, “Ready for your next lesson?”
“There is no need to dismiss them. You give them supper.”
His words tossed me like a wave of distress.
“Me? I didn’t bring any food. I didn’t even know we were coming across the lake. If we go and buy food, it will cost a year’s wages. There have to be 5,000 men here, and most of them have their wives and kids. How could I possibly feed—”
Jesus put His hand on my shoulder and said, “Peter, Peter, just have them sit in groups of fifty. What food do we have?”
Thomas came up with a tiny satchel.
“There was a boy who had a couple fish and some bread, maybe five little loaves. But what good is that among all these?”
“Bring them here,” Jesus said.
And isn’t that always the answer?
“Jesus, there is a man here with a withered hand.”
“Bring him to Me.”
“Jesus, my son is sick.”
“Bring him to Me.”
“Jesus, my daughter’s dead.”
“Bring Me to her.”
He took the bread and lifted it up toward heaven and gave thanks. Then He broke off a piece of bread and fish for each of the twelve of us and told us to share what we had.
I went to my first group of fifty and handed my entire stash of lunch to the first person. I watched in astonishment as each person took some and passed it. When it came back to me, I was sure it was larger than when I started. As I went on to the next group, I noticed the first fifty were all busy eating.
As we passed the food around, the din began to rise. Astonishment ran amuck in the crowd. Many were there to see a miracle; some came to hear Him teach, and I am sure some were there to undermine Him, to get some bit of dirt. But now all were eating—eating this heaven-sent fish sandwich—and there wasn’t a naysayer in the bunch.
When the feasting was over, Jesus told us to gather up the leftovers and take them down to the boat. He said He would meet us back across the lake. We gathered up twelve baskets full of scraps. Some of the scraps were the size of my original portion.
I looked back as we headed down to the boat, and I saw Jesus touching people as they left—a handshake, a touch on the shoulder, a pat on the back. I know He wanted to be alone, but Jesus always gave all of Himself when He was with others.
As we cast off, I could see Him heading up the mountain, where He could be alone. I expect He poured His heart out to His Father. I had almost forgotten about John, with all that had transpired since our reunion that morning.
It was night by now, and as we headed out into the Sea of Galilee, the waves grew. The sky began to anger, or so it seemed, as the star-specked black turned to a foreboding gray. In short order, the wind whipped up, and the waves pounded us.
We pulled at the oars for hours, making little headway. Eight of us would pull for a quarter hour while the others rested; then, four would step in and four more rest. But the night, the wind, the waves . . . They would not end.
Andrew, on a rowing break, looked out into the night.
“What’s that?” he said.
At first we all ignored him. I was exhausted. It had to be four watch, and I was not in the mood for sightseeing.
“No, really,” Andrew said, more insistent this time. “What— or should I say who—is that?”
I rested my oar and turned my head to see what he was squawking about. Sure enough, off the port side of the stern, perhaps fifty cubits out, I could barely make out the form of a man. As we drifted, pounded by the waves, we all stared in wonder.
Someone let down the anchor so we would not end up back at the shore. As I heard the chain running, James yelled out exactly what I was thinking.
“Is it a ghost?”
“Whoever it is, He walks like Jesus,” John shouted above the commotion.
Then Bart said, “I think He is going to walk right by!”
The figure was now almost to the bow of the boat but still about thirty cubits off.
“Master?” I called out.
It was only then that He turned toward the boat and walked toward us.
Walked toward us?
It rose up in me—I’m not sure why—but the next thing I knew, I was calling out to Him again.
“Master, if it’s really you, call me to come to you on the water.”
He was just close enough for me to see His face, its ready-for-the-next-lesson expression so familiar to me.
When I think back on what happened next, I shake my head. The rest of the men stood in stunned silence, staring, but I pulled off my coat, climbed up on the gunwale, and into—or should I say onto—the waves I went.
As I looked at Jesus, He stopped coming toward me and held out His arms to me like a father welcoming a toddling child. His eyes were saying, “Come on, come on! You can do it!” Then all at once, a wave smacked my back, and I turned to take a quick look.
That was when I started to sink. But Jesus reached down and grabbed my hand. He looked at me and shook His head. For a minute, I thought He was going to drag me through the water and back to the boat, but then He pulled me up, and we walked back to the boat together.
As soon as He stepped onto the boat, the sea settled down.
When I looked around at the boys, they were all on their knees.
“You really are the Son of God!” Andrew said. “Amen!” we all cried, as what had just happened penetrated our hearts and minds.
As each day passes, I am more in awe of Jesus..
Truly, He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.
To read the original story, see Matthew 14, Mark 6:14-54, and John 6:1-21.
Copyright - Benjamin Nelson - 2015
The story above is a chapter from my book Encounters With Jesus, which is a compilation of forty such stories. It takes the reader from Christ's conception to His resurrection through the eyes of dozens who were touched by His ministry.
Sometimes cousins can be really different. Here I am showing my age, but do you remember the Patty Duke show? Two teenage cousins who looked exactly alike, but were different in every way – one wild and free, one poised and governed by self control.
The Bible gives us a set of cousins who are likewise considerably different.
'We played the flute for you, and you did not dance; we sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.' "For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, 'He has a demon!' "The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds. - Matthew 11:17-19
How can these two men, John the Baptist and Jesus, the Christ, the Messiah, the Son of God and Son of man, how can they both be servants of the Most High God, and yet be so different?
That’s what the disciples of John wanted to know, and that’s what the Pharisees wanted to know.
There is one area where they were the same.
They did not dance to the world’s tune.
The world is always trying to get us to compromise what the Lord has put before us.
John came as the final chapter of the Old Covenant. His was the closing hymn, the final chord, of a grand mournful requiem. He came preaching and demonstrating the crushing weight of unrepentant sin, and demanding that men change, and then come to be baptized.
So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? "Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father,' for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. - Luke 3:7-8
Don’t get me wrong, Jesus preached repentance too. I am not saying that repentance is not part of the Christian walk.
But unlike John, who dressed in an itchy shirt, ate bugs and cried in the wilderness, Jesus sat at the dinner table with all kinds of sinners.
There are two very different dinner tables we read of in the life of Jesus, Levi’s table, with tax collectors and sinners, and Simon’s table, with Pharisees and the religious elite.
These are the same two types of people that came out to John.
Neither group could influence either man.
They played the wedding march for John, but he preached a funeral message in the wilderness.
They played a funeral dirge for the Lord, and He drew them to a wedding feast.
How does the world’s tune influence you?
It’s easy to get caught up in trying to play the Christian life to the tune the world is playing, but I suggest to you today, that you tune your dial to the song of heaven.
What music would heaven have you dance to today.
Lord, help me hear from You what song You are singing over me, and let me live my life to Your rhythm. [Tweet This]
Jesus is out and about preaching through the cities.
Prison is not so great; No library, no HBO, no nutritional guidelines or hours in the exercise yard.
John is temped to wonder about Jesus, so he sends some of the men who were still following his teachings to make sure that the assumption he made that day, only a couple months ago, in the Jordan River, was the right one.
Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else? - Matthew 11:3
Are you tempted to wonder this now and then?
John is hearing reports of Jesus’ message of freedom.
John is remembering the promise of a messiah on whom the government would rest.
John is in prison.
You read of Jesus’ message of freedom.
You remember the stories of Jesus healing the sick, raising the dead, healing the brokenhearted.
But you’re still sick.
Your loved one is dead.
You’re alone, brokenhearted, hopeless.
If you could would ask Jesus today:
Are You the Expected One, or shall I look for someone else?
Jesus’ answer is a mystery. He does not send and angel, or earthquake and set him free. He does not send him words of hope and patience.
He tells John’s followers to go back and tell him of how Jesus is fulfilling all the prophecies and promises of the Messiah, just not in his life.
Go and report to John what you hear and see: the BLIND RECEIVE SIGHT and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the POOR HAVE THE GOSPEL PREACHED TO THEM.
And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me. - Matthew 11:3-6
This is such an enigma.
John, you're in prison, and I am setting captives free, just not you. Don’t be offended.
What about you? Do you hear the stories of healing in the land, of renewal and revival and feel left out?
Will you take offense at Him, or will you wait on the Lord and be of good courage? [Tweet this]
Offence will build a wall between you and your hope.
Jesus taught us how to deal with just this type of situation.
Ask, and keep on asking, seek and keep on seeking, knock and keep on knocking, and you will receive, find and the door will be open.